Many of the consumer goods in this country pass through a few massive distribution centers, where they are unloaded and reshipped to various cities, including Philadelphia. These centers rely on speed and inexpensive labor to keep costs down. But workers at one gargantuan collection of warehouses have filed a federal lawsuit claiming that they have been exposed to dangerous working conditions and have been denied even minimum wage compensation for their work.
The alleged safety problems could pose a significant risk of a workplace accident. Workers report boxes stacked hazardously high and ready to topple on people underneath them, an absence of safety protections on machines, and a lack of measures designed to catch a worker falling from heights. In addition, many warehouses suffer from excessive temperatures, often above 90 degrees. The heat caused one worker to become ill, but his supervisor denied his request for transportation to the hospital. Regulatory authorities have leveled 60 safety violations against four warehouses.
The list of abuses does not end there. According to the lawsuit, the companies instituted a “piece-rate pay system,” which based compensation on how many trucks they could fill or empty. Companies insisted that workers would earn more than minimum wage on the piece-rate system, but in fact they earned much less. Companies also required workers to sign blank time sheets so that they could manipulate the workers’ hours and pay. As a result, workers were not paid for the entire time they were on the clock, but often only for the time they were loading or emptying a truck.
The workers have already achieved a significant victory in the lawsuit. The court has ordered the companies to give their workers clear and correct documentation of their earnings. As a response, the companies have abandoned the piece-rate system and have begun paying employees by the hour. Lawsuits such as the one in this case can help workers protect their rights.
Source: MSNBC.com, “Warehouse workers say abuses are systemic,” Lilly Fowler, Mar. 5, 2012.